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The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner: Page 59

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. I
couldn't save your father the way he had saved me."

"Why did people want to hurt my father?" Sohrab said in a wheezy little
voice. "He was never mean to anyone."

"You're right. Your father was a good man. But that's what I'm trying to
tell you, Sohrab jan. That there are bad people in this world, and sometimes bad
people stay bad. Sometimes you have to stand up to them. What you did to that
man is what I should have done to him all those years ago. You gave him what he
deserved, and he deserved even more."

Do you think Father is disappointed in me?

"I know he's not," I said. "You saved my life in Kabul. I know he is very
proud of you for that."

He wiped his face with the sleeve of his shirt. It burst a bubble of spittle
that had formed on his lips. He buried his face in his hands and wept a long time
before he spoke again. "I miss Father, and Mother too," he croaked. "And I miss
Sasa and Rahim Khan sahib. But sometimes I'm glad they're not ... they're not
here anymore."

"Why?" I touched his arm. He drew back.

"Because--" he said, gasping and hitching between sobs, "because I don't
want them to see me... I'm so dirty." He sucked in his breath and let it out in a
long, wheezy cry. "I'm so dirty and full of sin."

"You're not dirty, Sohrab," I said.

"Those men-"

"You're not dirty at all."

"-they did things... the bad man and the other two... they did things... did
things to me."

"You're not dirty, and you're not full of sin." I touched his arm again and
he drew away. I reached again, gently, and pulled him to me. "I won't hurt you," I
whispered. "I promise." He resisted a little. Slackened. He let me draw him to me
and rested his head on my chest. His little body convulsed in my arms with each

A kinship exists between people who've fed from the same breast. Now,
as the boy's pain soaked through my shirt, I saw that a kinship had taken root

between us too. What had happened in that room with Assef had irrevocably
bound us.

I'd been looking for the right time, the right moment, to ask the question
that had been buzzing around in my head and keeping me up at night. I decided
the moment was now, right here, right now, with the bright lights of the house of
God shining on us.

"Would you like to come live in America with me and my wife?"

He didn't answer. He sobbed into my shirt and I let him.

FOR A WEEK, neither one of us mentioned what I had asked him, as if the
question hadn't been posed at all. Then one day, Sohrab and 1 took a taxicab to
the Daman-e-Koh Viewpoint--or "the hem of the mountain." Perched midway up
the Margalla Hills, it gives a panoramic view of Islamabad, its rows of clean, tree-
lined avenues and white houses. The driver told us we could see the presidential
palace from up there. "If it has rained and the air is clear, you can even see past
Rawalpindi," he said. I saw his eyes in his rearview mirror, skipping from Sohrab
to me, back and forth, back and forth. I saw my own face too. It wasn't as swollen
as before, but it had taken on a yellow tint from my assortment of fading bruises.

We sat on a bench in one of the picnic areas, in the shade of a gum tree. It
was a warm day, the sun perched high in a topaz blue sky. On benches nearby,
families snacked on samosas and pakoras. Somewhere, a radio played a Hindi
song I thought I remembered from an old movie, maybe Pakeeza. Kids, many of
them Sohrab's age, chased soccer balls, giggling, yelling. I thought about the
orphanage in Karteh-Seh, thought about the rat that had scurried between my
feet in Zaman's office. My chest tightened with a surge of unexpected anger at the
way my countrymen were destroying their own land.

"What?" Sohrab asked. I forced a smile and told him it wasn't important.

We unrolled one of the hotel's bathroom towels on the picnic table and
played panjpar on it. It felt good being there, with my half brother's son, playing

cards, the warmth of the sun patting the back of my neck. The song ended and
another one started, one I didn't recognize.

"Look," Sohrab said. He was pointing to the sky with his cards. I looked
up, saw a hawk circling in the broad seamless sky. "Didn't know there were
hawks in Islamabad," I said.

"Me neither," he said, his eyes tracing the bird's circular flight. "Do they
have them where you live?"

"San Francisco? I guess so. I can't say I've seen too many, though."

"Oh," he said. I was hoping he'd ask more, but he dealt another hand and
asked if we could eat. I opened the paper bag and gave him his meatball
sandwich. My lunch consisted of yet another cup of blended bananas and
oranges--Td rented Mrs. Fayyaz's blender for the week. I sucked through the
straw and my mouth filled with the sweet, blended fruit. Some of it dripped from
the corner of my lips. Sohrab handed me a napkin and watched me dab at my
lips. I smiled and he smiled back.

"Your father and I were brothers," I said. It just came out. I had wanted to
tell him the night we had sat by the mosque, but I hadn't. But he had a right to
know; I didn't want to hide anything anymore. "Half brothers, really. We had the
same father."

Sohrab stopped chewing. Put the sandwich down. "Father never said he
had a brother."

"That's because he didn't know."

"Why didn't he know?"

"No one told him," I said. "No one told me either. I just found out

Sohrab blinked. Like he was looking at me, really looking at me, for the
very first time. "But why did people hide it from Father and you?"

"You know, I asked myself that same question the other day. And there's
an answer, but not a good one. Let's just say they didn't tell us because your
father and I... we weren't supposed to be brothers."

"Because he was a Hazara?"

I willed my eyes to stay on him. "Yes."

"Did your father," he began, eyeing his food, "did your father love you and
my father equally?"

I thought of a long ago day at Ghargha Lake, when Baba had allowed
himself to pat Hassan on the back when Hassan's stone had out skipped mine. I
pictured Baba in the hospital room, beaming as they removed the bandages from
Hassan's lips. "I think he loved us equally but differently."

"Was he ashamed of my father?"

"No," I said. "I think he was ashamed of himself."

He picked up his sandwich and nibbled at it silently.

WE LEFT LATE THAT AFTERNOON, tired from the heat, but tired in a pleasant
way. All the way back, I felt Sohrab watching me. I had the driver pull over at a
store that sold calling cards. I gave him the money and a tip for running in and
buying me one.

That night, we were lying on our beds, watching a talk show on TV. Two
clerics with pepper gray long beards and white turbans were taking calls from
the faithful all over the world. One caller from Finland, a guy named Ayub, asked
if his teenaged son could go to hell for wearing his baggy pants so low the seam
of his underwear showed.

"I saw a picture of San Francisco once," Sohrab said.


"There was a red bridge and a building with a pointy top."

"You should see the streets," I said.

"What about them?" He was looking at me now. On the TV screen, the two
mullahs were consulting each other.

"They're so steep, when you drive up all you see is the hood of your car
and the sky," I said.

"It sounds scary," he said. He rolled to his side, facing me, his back to the

"It is the first few times," I said. "But you get used to it."

"Does it snow there?"

"No, but we get a lot of fog. You know that red bridge you saw?"


"Sometimes the fog is so thick in the morning, all you see is the tip of the
two towers poking through."

There was wonder in his smile. "Oh."



"Have you given any thought to what I asked you before?"

His smiled faded. He rolled to his back. Laced his hands under his head.
The mullahs decided that Ayub's son would go to hell after all for wearing his
pants the way he did.
They claimed it was in the Haddith. "I've thought about it,
Sohrab said.



"It scares me."

"I know it's a little scary," I said, grabbing onto that loose thread of hope

"But you'll learn English so fast and you'll get used to--"

"That's not what I mean. That scares me too, but...

"But what?"

He rolled toward me again. Drew his knees up. "What if you get tired of
me? What if your wife doesn't like me?"

I struggled out of bed and crossed the space between us. I sat beside him.
"I won't ever get tired of you, Sohrab," I said.

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